Happiness habits

Here’s a short summary from this insightful – interview on practical habits to increase happiness

Sonja Lyubomirsky is an American professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, a book of strategies backed by scientific research that can be used to increase happiness. In this 50 minute interview she shares some really helpful tips so if you don’t have the time to watch I’ve summarised the juicy bits here:

Are we in control of our happiness?

Happiness by Anna Vital. 3 factors: genetics, life circumstances and daily actions and behaviours.
50,40,10 model

Sonja explains yes absolutely.  In her book she shared a model that explains what determines happiness, it was called the 50/40/10 model. There are 3 key determining factors:

  • Genetics
  • Life circumstances
  • What we do every day – our actions and behaviours

She caveated the numbers applied to the model 18 years ago were very approximate, but the three factors remain relevant.   So if roughly 40% of what makes us happy is based on our actions and behaviours, it’s really important that we ensure those actions and behaviours are serving our sense of well-being and happiness.

What evidence based actions and behaviours contribute most effectively to our happiness?   

Sonja explains there are three ‘happiness interventions’ that her lab focus on for their proven benefits to our sense of happiness:

  • Gratitude
  • Acts of kindness/generosity
  • Engaging in social interactions/ developing connections

The three are also inter-connected with Connection to others at the heart as it makes life worth living.  Both gratitude and kindness are activities that make us feel more connected.  

She explains there are hundreds and hundreds of strategies and actions and it’s really important to find what works for you.  They should fit your personality, values and goals.  She highlights that exercise for example can have a hugely beneficial impact on your happiness and there are numerous others. It’s finding what works for you. 

Can you share some practical tips for finding the right action for you?

Sonja suggests 3 questions to ask yourself when taking up a potential new habit such as meditation:

Do I think it will be enjoyable? 

Do I think it will be meaningful? 

Do I think it will feel natural?

She caveats that taking up any new habit or action can feel ‘unnatural’ or a little ‘uncomfortable’ to begin with but bearing that in mind – ask yourself those questions first. 

There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to happiness. Can you bust some happiness myths?

The pursuit of money, fame, beauty and material things are all extrinsic goals. There’s a saying:

‘Money doesn’t make you happy but everyone wants to find out for themselves’ Zig Ziglar

‘Hedonic adaptation’ explains why this pursuit is futile.  Human beings are very good at getting used to new things in their lives. We buy a new car or handbag and it makes us happy but then we slowly adapt – it’s no longer new and shiny and so the boost goes away.  Then we want the boost again, so we buy something else.  More ‘stuff’ doesn’t make us happier but the new purchase does temporarily, so we seek the boost. Good to be aware of that!

How do you think Covid has impacted happiness?

Real life connections have been hugely limited.  We are inherently social animals that benefit from face-to-face human interaction.  This significant reduction in exposure to others will have had a detrimental impact for most.  However, some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts so not everyone will have felt the loss as acutely.  Introverts still crave quality connections, they may just want them from fewer people in more one-on-one circumstances. 

On the plus side, Covid has given some of us more time.  More time to reflect on what matters.  Sometimes it takes a crises for us all to re-evaluate what we really want and what’s really important to us.  This is a great time to wake-up and re-prioritise – the chance to start a new chapter.  

Within ‘self-determination theory’ there are 3 basic human needs that are critical for happiness. When you reflect on what really matters it’s likely it falls into one of these buckets. First is connecting to others (relationships), the second is how you contribute to your community and society, thirdly, your personal growth – a sense of learning, challenging ourselves, a desire to improve how we are as parents, cooks, gardeners, crafters etc. Most people finding a new sense of meaning or purpose will be searching for things that sit within these buckets.

We live within turbulent times, how can we feel more in control and connected?

Let’s first acknowledge that some people have very little control in their lives.  But many of us are fortunate enough to be able to be change agents. Through our daily actions and choices we can make a positive difference to the world around us.  Through acts of kindness to our neighbours and strangers we’ll change someone’s day.  Start with your own neighbourhood and sphere of influence.  You can have a positive impact on the world one small action at a time.

Also, have gratitude towards the people you don’t even know. Towards people who don’t look like or sound like you.  Have gratitude towards people who have helped make your life possible those that have taught you or made the clothes your wearing or provided the food the shops can supply.

Society seems to be less tolerant currently with a fear of the ‘other’. There is an evolutionary explanation for this; we survive by belonging to a family, a group, a community. But we also feel threatened by people who don’t share our opinions and beliefs and simply don’t look like us. Yet, as ‘Broaden and Build theory’ explains, the more we cultivate positive emotions within us, the more expansive our thinking and tolerance becomes, leading to greater opportunities for happiness.  

A great way to foster closer connections is to share mutual vulnerability.  If you have a goal of deepening a connection with a friend – have a go at asking the ’36 questions to fall in love’.  This has even been conducted as a test among people from opposing political and societal contexts and has been proven to break down barriers and foster connections.  Try it at dinner!

What does Sonja do to lift her sense of happiness if she’s having a bad day? 

Some of the strategies such as gratitude don’t always work right away, but you know they do overtime. So when I wake up and just feel down I first of all accept the feeling and reassure myself ‘this too shall pass’.  William James – the father of psychology and philosopher said: ‘Experience is what I agree to attend to’, by that he means our experience is determined by where our attention resides.  Am I thinking about a test I’m nervous about, the beautiful flowers in front of me, an argument I had this morning.  We have control over our current experience because we have control over what we pay attention to. So be conscious of what you’re paying attention to as it’s having an enormous influence on how you feel. 

I hope you found this as insightful as I did, make an intention to implement one of these strategies today and develop your own happiness plan.

#SonjaLyubomirsky #happinesshabits #wellbeing #positivepsychology #actionforhappiness #zenergyactive #holistichealth

How’s your self-care battery doing?

Self-care is about recharging yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  We only have a finite amount of energy and once we run beyond our limits there are serious consequences and yet we’re very bad at setting boundaries and protecting our precious energy reserves.

Screenshot 2020-08-04 at 14.45.22

The simple analogy of the ‘self-care battery’ can really help to simplify the self-care process.  Picturing a battery pack helps to encapsulate where your energy levels are at and whether you might be in need of a boost.   It can also be applied to the activities and even people in your life – do they boost or take from your energy reserves?

Unlike our devices our energy levels don’t come with any visible warning signs that our energy is waning.  Mindful practices help us create the headspace to take a few breaths and check in on how our battery pack is performing.  So take a few deep breaths and make a note of where your energy is at.  If you need a boost what activities could you put in place that might help restore you back to full power?

It could be as simple as a few breaths or a breathing exercise like box breathing or a walk round the block, water break or making plans with friends who energise you.  Remember it’s also sometimes about saying no to plans too.  If your battery pack is running low, prioritise you and your precious energy reserves – self-care isn’t selfish – you’ll be a better version of you for yourself and others if your battery pack is fully charged.  #selfcare #selfcareisntselfish #energy #selfcarebattery #mindfulness #mindfulmovement

Pilates for speaking with confidence

Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels

I read an article this week called ‘Speech Anxiety: Use “Grounding” to Look and Feel More Confident’ on tips for speaking in public with strength and confidence.  I was fascinated by the parallels with the ABCs of Pilates – alignment, breathing and centering.

The emphasis of the article was on body language, grounding, posture and breathing techniques to help us convey our message with confidence.  All areas that we cover each week in Pilates. Another reminder that the lessons we learn on the mat are equally as relevant off the mat.

So if you wish to create ‘standing’ through your ‘standing’ with your audience take a read of the article and if you haven’t experienced Pilates know that much of what is covered here is what you can expect to experience in a good Pilates class.

I particularly loved the Oak Tree analogy – it inspired my guided relaxation in Zen Pilates this week.  So thank you Gary Genard – most interesting!  #pilatesforconfidence #pilatesposture #pilatesABCs #zenergyactive #garygenard #pilatesforanxiety #grounding #posture #breathing



Did you know you have 3 brains?

This weekend I listened to Dr Chatterjee’s podcast (Feel better, Live more), he was interviewing Dr Tara Swart a neuroscientist and psychologist who was talking about coping with emotions.  She mentioned almost in passing that whenever she needs to make a big decision she places her hand on her head to ask her head for a logical response, then on her heart for an emotional response and then on her tummy for a gut instinct response.Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Zen-3

I’ve since discovered that scientists now recognise 3 brains (who knew!) – our cephalic brain (head), the cardiac brain (heart), and the enteric brain in our gut.  Our head brain has over 100 billion neurons, our gut has a sizeable 100 million neurons and our heart 400,000.  Each organ has complex neuro-networks in which to store and process data before sending it to the brain via the Vagus Nerve.

In Zen Pilates we finish each class with a guided relaxation, in this week’s practise we’ll be tuning into the combined inner wisdom of our 3 brains.  Visiting each area in our minds eye with nourishing breaths while listening to the head brain for logical input into any problems we may be experiencing, then dropping down to the heart and exploring our emotional response and finally the gut for intuitive guidance.

We so often look for answers on the outside when we have the power of 3 brains on the inside to call upon for guidance! The art is creating the time and space to tune in to them and truly listen.

Tips for beating anxiety and creating energy and calm

It’s impossible not to be feeling anxious at the moment. So I wanted to share my top well-being tips and techniques for creating energy and calm in the mind and body. The criteria I set myself was that they had to be free, require no ‘kit’ and be easy to do.

You don’t need to do all of them all the time, just find the ones that work for you then try and do those a few times a week. Small and often is better than big and never. I’ll keep adding to this list so share any favourites with me.

They’re in no particular order – although the first two are my personal favourites!

1.Breathe – Calm breaths puts the breaks on our anxiety. Invest the time to practise slow and steady breathing when you don’t need it so that when you do you’ve trained yourself to manage your natural stress response. Here’s a link to my favourite breathing techniques

2.Move – we all know that movement is great for body and mind. Understand your energy level and then pick a class, movement or activity that makes you feel good and nurtures your body. If you’re feeling full of beans then go for a run or dance round the house, feeling in need of a stretch then go with that but try to create time to move for at least 15 minutes a day every day

3.Eat well – eat a colourful plate, with sensible portions and eat mindfully rather than while distracted – not just to eat less but to actually enjoy every mouthful.

4.Affirmations – A positive short statement in the present tense that you repeat to yourself first thing in the morning loudly and proudly. It should focus your mind on a positive behaviour or mindset you want to create (usually countering one you don’t currently have) so for example: ‘I am happy’, ‘I am in control’ ‘ I will succeed’.

5.Gratitude – we’re programmed on a primal level to look out for danger and negativity to protect ourselves. A technique to reprogramme our minds to focus more on the positive is to take a few minutes out every day to reflect on the day we had looking only for small almost insignificant moments where actually we can find something to feel grateful for. A parking space, a smile from a stranger, a compliment etc.

6.Reframing – if you’re ruminating on something that has happened or might happen – strip out the emotion and look just at the facts. Become an observer – treat the scenario like you’re just a commentator going through the facts and see if you can find a different way to look at those facts minus the emotions.

7.Walks in nature – this works on many levels – you create energy, positive chemicals release, you’re exposed to Vitamin D, your problems feel insignificant around ancient trees and you absorb yourself in your environment not your mind

8.Journaling – not writing a diary but simply getting your thoughts out of your head. Unacknowledged thoughts way heavy on our minds. So pick up a piece of paper and get your thoughts out.

9.Watch the self-talk – ‘Talk to yourself like you would a friend’ is one of my favourite tips.

10.Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep – Create a routine, avoid bright light (can you brush your teeth with just the hall light on), avoid your screen and see if you can fit in a 30 second gratitude practise before bed.

11. Set yourself up for a good day – make your bed (you’ve achieved something before you’ve even left the bedroom), choose what you do wisely with those first few minutes that will set the tone for the day. Write down your goals before you look at your phone so you know what you want to achieve and then appreciate it when you do!

12.Connect – we are social creatures, nurture your connections friends, family and community – also helps to create a sense of belonging. Find time to talk and also listen. Hug (if it’s appropriate) physical contact also releases chemicals for the giver and receiver. Pets count too!

13.Get to know yourself and prioritise yourself – know what brings you energy and calm and protect this by setting boundaries and saying no. You’ll be more useful to everyone else if you prioritise you and your needs as well.

14.Give – reward chemicals are released when perform acts of kindness for others. You benefit, they benefit. It’s a win win.

15.Meditate/mindfulness – this doesn’t mean sitting still and shutting out all thoughts for an hour. You can meditate or be mindful through gentle or dynamic movement focusing on how your body feels and your breathe. It’s simply about being in the present moment in a state of awareness rather than worrying about the past or the future. If during your practise of mindfulness you do drift into your thoughts, come back to your breathe and remind yourself – ‘you can’t stop the waves but you can surf them’.

16.Have fun – make time for doing things that are simply being done for no other reason than to be fun.

#wellbeingtips #anxiety #toptips #calm #energy #breathe #wellbeing #zenergyactive